Fire burns Eastside mosque; one arrested
BELLEVUE, Wash. --A fire badly damaged an Eastside mosque early Saturday morning.
"We believe this fire was intentionally set," said Bellevue Police Chief Steve Mylett.
One man is under arrest for investigation of arson. Officials said he had been at the mosque before and had previously been arrested there.
Firefighters arrived at the Islamic Center of the Eastside in the 14700 block of Main Street at 2:49 a.m. to find 40-foot flames coming from the rear of the building. Firefighters managed to save half of the building and conducted salvage operations to preserve holy books and electronic equipment.
"We view this as an attack on our entire community," said Mylett. He said a 37-year-old was arrested in a parking lot behind the mosque. He was laying down when found, Mylett said.
He was jailed for investigation of second-degree arson and for a warrant for malicious mischief from Seattle.
He declared the fire arson, saying he based that conclusion on evidence from the scene, including video footage, and what the suspect told officers.
Mylett said the arson was not an act of terrorism or part of some sort of coordinated attack. But he said the suspect's motive is unclear.
Deputy prosecutor Mike Hogan said the suspect had prior contacts with the mosque. In fact, police said the suspect had previously been arrested for making a disturbance at the mosque.
Hogan said he expects arson charges will be filed Tuesday.
The fire left members of the mosque stunned.
"It makes us feel terrible, you know?," said Fazal Hassan, the imam at the mosque. "Disappointed."
He later urged the community pray for peace.
Noman Noor has been coming to the mosque since 1997. "We'd like to know why. What was the reasoning?"
Prayers were held Saturday at the Highland Community Center because of the fire.
The "cowardly act of one individual has impacted a house of worship," said Bellevue Mayor John Stokes, who called the fire "a terrible incident."
There were no injuries in the fire. No one was inside the building.
Police and fire investigators were on the scene throughout the day to investigate the possible arson. Investigators from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have joined them.
Meanwhile, members of the community have been dropping off flowers and balloons.
There have been repeated incidents of threats and vandalism at the Bellevue mosque and others in recent months. A man was charged this week with a hate crime for threatening people there on Jan. 6, and a granite sign outside the Muslim Association of Puget Sound in neighboring Redmond was damaged twice.
Bellevue police do not believe the Redmond incidents are related to the Bellevue fire.
Meanwhile, an online campaign has begun to raise money to rebuild the mosque.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.